Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lesson 13: Joseph Smith

Think about all the doctrines, ordinances, and publications that Joseph Smith brought into the world between his First Vision in 1820 and the day he was killed in 1844 -- it's a long list. The breadth and depth of the knowledge and luminance we now have because of his work stretches literally from eternity to eternity.

For example, the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses give us greater insight into the pre-creative council of heaven than any other source. And Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants (originally called "The Vision" because of its grand scope) lets us glimpse the heavens that await us.

In addition, and in between those two extremes, Joseph Smith gave us the Book of Mormon, the rest of the Doctrine and Covenants, the rest of the Pearl of Great Price, and all the doctrines and ordinances that come with them. He also provided us an example of an imperfect man who gave his all, even his life, to defend the Church, its members, its teachings, and ultimately Jesus Christ himself. He was flawed -- his divine chastisements are published for the world to see. But to his friends he was completely loyal, and to his enemies unflinchingly kind.

I know of no other human who provides such a great example of doing his best to live according to God's will than Joseph Smith Jr. In everything I have studied about his life and his character, I can only conclude that (1) he was human -- imperfect, flawed, and mortal -- and (2) he was a prophet of God -- inspired, authorized, and guided to do a work much larger than himself.

He was a powerful tool in the hands of God. I don't blame him for his human foibles. I honor him for his dedication and loyalty to the cause of his Creator.

* * *

Here's one of my favorite stories of Joseph Smith. He was imprisoned, with a few other Church leaders, for the entire winter of 1838-39 in Liberty, Missouri -- near Independence, Missouri (of all the ironically named places) -- and also in Richmond, in Ray County, while on trial. At Liberty Jail they were confined to a cellar of sorts: a dirt floor, very little light, some straw on the ground to sleep on, and thin blankets for warmth.

They were held in this place for months while other members of the Church were being persecuted to the extreme: mobs stole or destroyed property, severely beat men, did even worse to women, and were given virtually free reign by two successive governors to do what they will with the the point of them being "exterminated or driven from the State."

Three days after that infamous order was issued, some 200 men descended on Haun's Mill and massacred 18 men and boys, while the women and other children fled into the woods.

Shortly afterward, Joseph and others Church leaders were jailed. For months he could only sit and listen to the horrific reports of what was happening to his people outside. He was powerless to do anything other than plead to the Almighty for reprieve.

While they were in Richmond, Joseph and six others were chained together, from ankle to ankle, with padlocks. During the two weeks they were on trial, they were confined to a room without beds or chairs, guarded by ten men at all times, with loaded guns ready to use at a moments notice. At night, the chained men stretched out on the wood floor, still chained together, on their backs. They were mostly unable to sleep, due to the hard floor, the cold, the inability to change positions because of the chains, and the loud guards just outside.

It was one of these tedious nights we had lain as if in sleep until the hour of mid-nite had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we listened for hours to the obscene jests and horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards, Colonel Price at their head, as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder and robbery which they had committed among the Mormons, while at Far West and vicinity.

I had listened until I became so disgusted, shocked and horrified and filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising on my feet and rebuking the guards, but had said nothing to Joseph, or anyone else, although, I lay next to him and knew that he was awake. On a sudden he rose to his feet and as near as I can recollect, spoke the following words:

"SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit! In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk or you or I die THIS INSTANT!"

He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained and without a weapon; calm, unruffled, and dignified as an angel; he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet until the change of guards.

I have seen ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath in the courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembeld to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at mid-nite in a dungeon in an obscure village in Missouri. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 228-230)

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